Sugar Baby‑Daddy Relationships Are More Complex Than An Exchange of Sex and Gifts
The sugar daddy trope in the West often evokes a singular visual: a low-on-rent, struggling, beautiful, college-going woman who decides to take a leap into the world of “sugar” relationships, through sites such as Seeking Arrangements, where a slew of rich, older men are looking for exactly her, ready to shower her in rent money and nice dinners in return for “companionship” on the surface and sex in the subtext.
This trope, while both criticized as a two-way exploitation scheme and lauded as a way for young women to righteously dupe predatory older men, has been portrayed to death in movies, including several eponymous ones. This trope, incidentally, is exactly what drove University of Colorado, Denver sociologist Maren Scull, PhD, to investigate if all sugar relationships are determined by so-called exploitative mindsets and a set demographic. Her research, published in the journal Sociological Perspectives, shows that’s not the case.
“Whenever I read an article about ‘sugar daddies’ or ‘sugar babies,’ I often saw the same sensationalistic slant: the women are desperate, starved college students engaging in prostitution. As someone who studies deviance, I knew there were more important nuances to these relationships,” Scull said in a statement. Scull found seven types of sugar relationships: “sugar prostitution, compensated dating, compensated companionship, sugar dating, sugar friendships, sugar friendships with benefits, and pragmatic love.”
Scull found that the monetary benefits of sugar relationships include, per the discretion of the sugar daddy, rent, bills, luxury items and dates, and vacations.
To understand the nuances that come with entering a sugar relationship, Scull interviewed 48 U.S. women who are sugar babies and documented their intricate experiences regarding money, attention, love, and sex with their sugar daddies. “I didn’t have the intent of creating a typology, but there was so much variety that I knew I had to highlight the different nuances and forms that sugar relationships can take,” Scull said, adding 40% of women she interviewed were not involved in a sexual relationship with their sugar daddies; those who were often shared a connection with their benefactors that didn’t fit the exploitative, monetary-exchange scenario often peddled in pop culture.
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Explaining the types, Scull defines “sugar prostitution” as merely an exchange of goods — gifts and sex; “compensated dating” means receiving gifts or monetary benefits for showing up for a date, be it coffee, dinner, or a movie; “compensated companionship” is an expanded version of “compensated dating,” in which the activities that a sugar baby is compensated for involve more than dates, and require the sugar baby to be more involved in the sugar daddy’s life — both “compensated dating” and “compensated companionship” don’t involve sex, Scully said.
Moving into murkier areas, Scully defined “sugar dating,” as one of the most common sugar relationships that involve companionship and sex, wherein the arrangement exists for longer periods of time and the sugar babies receive a weekly or monthly allowance. “Sugar friendships,” Scully finds, are relationships wherein the sugar baby considers the sugar daddy a friend, who perhaps was in their life before they struck up a monetary arrangement. A version of the “sugar friendship” is the “sugar friendship with benefits,” wherein both parties are still friends, and one supports the other, but sex may happen in an individually determined capacity. The last category of relationship Scully found was “pragmatic love,” wherein the sugar baby is more than happy to let a sugar daddy care for them, and hopes eventually to be in a romantic, long-term relationship with him.
“We were missing how [these relationships] are often organic and involve genuine, emotional connection. Many of the women didn’t intend on having a benefactor,” Scull said. “They just happened to meet someone at work or during a catering gig who wanted to take care of them. These relationships can last decades.”